Even CEOs leading the most decentralized organizations hold themselves to a “buck stops here” mentality. After all, when the going gets tough — which it does, according to 89% of CEOs — leaders at both public and private companies take the heat.
Those who expertly navigate precarious problems will stay secure. And those who don’t? Well, they might just join the ever increasing ranks of former CEOs. As one BTS report noted, the average CEO’s tenure dropped by 1.6 years between 2000 and 2011 — and that number is still rocky.
Yet problems aren’t really the problem: True crisis events are rare and take up a mere 1% of a CEO’s time. It’s what CEOs do during the good times that makes the difference. Leaders who hire strategically, build confidence and trust, consistently welcome ideas and give permission lay the groundwork for team survival during all phases of operation, especially during critical events.
Creating Strong Foundations
As cliché as it sounds, running a company is a lot like coaching a sports team. What occurs on the field comes from months of training — not a sudden burst of acumen. Building connections doesn’t happen in times of crisis. It happens when the CEO focuses on the big picture and cultivates relationships over time.
Rather than getting immersed in day-to-day tactical decisions, CEOs should learn about corporate systems, their employees and the industry overall. Having knowledge reduces friction points in rough waters and enables the wisdom-sharing uniquely expected from the CEO.
Lars Albright, co-founder and CEO of SessionM, believes in the importance of building trust and genuine connections: “They should enjoy you as a person because you are compelling, you listen intently and ask thoughtful questions,” he said in an interview.
Before my current role, I worked with CEOs who were so tangled up in daily decision-making that they couldn’t focus on anything else. During crises, they couldn’t rally the troops. This was all because they had never taken a moment to build trust with managers — the ones who should really be holding the reins.
The Successful CEO’s Roles and Responsibilities
So what are the key roles and responsibilities of a CEO? The path to becoming a crisis and noncrisis expert starts when the going is good:
Empower others. Until you relax and let others make decisions, you can’t truly concentrate on higher-level items. Question any urges to micromanage or take over projects and tasks.
If you feel as if proper infrastructure and support isn’t in place to authorize direct reports’ freedom here, rework your operations and hire new talent. In the case of a crisis, you can’t — and shouldn’t — do everything.
Adopt systems-level thinking. Gear yourself toward long-term thinking, and consider your five- or 10-year growth plan. When a crisis happens, you can always shift your overarching strategy without missing a beat. CEOs who deal only with immediate issues have no time to forecast and see the entire forest over individual trees.
Become a lifelong student. Great CEOs also happen to be keen students, and I learned this by observing our CEO. He studies everything from the latest trends and engineering protocols to management styles and talent considerations. Massive upskilling is his specialty. You can engage in learning by letting go of tasks that don’t enable flexibility and strategic thinking.
Crises happen, and how your company fares during and after depends on how you spend your calmer moments. For best results, pay attention to the big picture — and entrust a few brush strokes to someone else.
Read more: Professionalizing the CEO Role